Baden-Powell by Tim Jeal - review by Michael De-La-Noy

Michael De-La-Noy

Teach the Boys to Take Themselves in Hand



Hutchinson 670pp £18.75 order from our bookshop

Who needs hostile critics - and Tim Jeal’s magisterial biography of Lord Baden-Powell, founder, inter alia, of the Boy Scouts, has drawn a number from their woodsheds – when publishers employ public relations gals reared, if not educated, at Roedean? Hutchinson’s press office have excelled themselves. ‘Did Baden-Powell himself live up to the high-minded code he enjoined upon his millions of young acolytes?’ their press release enquires. ‘In recent years his critics have argued that he didn’t. He has been accused of racism, fascism and plagiarism. Even worse, of homosexuality.’

So homosexuality is ‘worse’ than racism, and that’s official. Fortunately for the immensely industrious and accomplished Tim Jeal, only idiots pay attention to press releases. The fact remains however that the problem with Baden-Powell is Baden-Powell. He was a racist (the word nigger tripped off his tongue without a pause for thought, and that’s what a racist is), but he was probably not a Fascist any more than Churchill, a fellow admirer of Mussolini; most of Baden-Powell’s contemporaries who were neither Liberals nor Communists were branded Fascist. As for the charge of plagiarism, this applies to accusations that Baden-Powell cribbed a good many of his Scouting ideas from a barmy American called Ernest Seton, and if he did it was no bad thing, for Seton’s Woodcraft Folk Movement would never have survived on its own. In addition, B-P was a raving snob, who revelled in public executions and corporal punishment.

After exhaustively sifting the evidence relating to Baden-Powell’s friendship with a fellow officer called Kenneth McLaren, whom Baden-Powell nicknamed the Boy and to whom he despatched a gift of eau de cologne when McLaren was seriously wounded during the siege of Mafeking, Jeal declares him not guilty of consummating his

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